A bill that would permit charter schools to discriminate against students based on sexual orientation caused an uproar in the General Assembly last week.
Among several provisions, Senate Bill 793 proposes a ban on charters that discriminate in their admissions. However, sexual orientation and gender identity were conspicuously absent.
When Democrats attempted to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list, House Speaker Pro Tem Paul "Skip" Stam, R-Wake, questioned how "sexual orientation" could be defined. He handed out pamphlets with outdated American Psychological Association information suggesting that homosexuality was a mental disorder—to be classified alongside sadism, bestiality and pedophilia.
The APA has not classified homosexuality as a mental disorder for nearly 40 years. In fact, the APA website offers a pamphlet stating that these orientations "are not disorders. Both heterosexual behavior and homosexual are normal aspects of human sexuality. ... Lesbian, gay and bisexual relationships are normal forms of human bonding."
Rep. Susan Fisher, D-Buncombe, who introduced the amendment adding sexual orientation to the list, said of Stam's antics: "I was embarrassed and somewhat disgusted."
This is not Stam's first attempt to link homosexuality to sexual dysfunction. In a 2011 press conference about Amendment One, Stam said "you cannot construct an argument for same-sex marriage that would not also justify philosophically the legalization of polygamy and adult incest."
Stam refused to speak to the INDY.
On June 26, Rep. Marcus Brandon, D-Guilford, the General Assembly's only openly gay representative, introduced an amendment to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the bill. His amendment was tabled.
The House eventually approved an amendment by Rep. Nathan Ramsey, R-Buncombe, with the language "a charter school shall not discriminate against any student with respect to any category protected under the United States Constitution or under federal law applicable to the states." Shortly after the amendment was approved, SB793 passed the House.
Fisher does not think the anti-discrimination amendment goes far enough because its language is so vague.
"If you lay out those classes that should be protected, those folks that should not be discriminated against, you have a much better chance of that actually happening than if you use vague language," she said.
SB793 also includes a provision on fast tracking the approval process, laying the groundwork for a spike in the number of charter schools. Keith Poston, executive director and president of North Carolina's Public School Forum, said his organization believes parents should have the option of charters, but are concerned about fast-tracking.
"We think that North Carolina ought to proceed carefully with so-called 'fast-tracking' approvals. Students, parents and ultimately the state are not going to benefit if we choose quantity over quality in terms of approving new charters," Poston said.
Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, who introduced the bill, said fast-tracking would makes it easier for new schools to start.
"There's no need to make them wait a long time to get approval," Tillman said.
However, Ann McColl, general counsel for the North Carolina Association of Educators, said the fast-track schools could have a harmful effect on small, rural communities. "For places that are already resource-poor, this really affects their basic infrastructure and that's what we start worrying about: that the ability to deliver that basic education becomes more difficult in places where these resources are being taken out of schools," she said.
Until 2011, North Carolina had a 100-school cap on charters. But the new Republican majority of the House and Senate lifted that cap, and the state now has 131 charter schools in operation. Twenty-five new charter schools are scheduled to open in the 2014–15 school year. It's unclear how many of these schools will actually open. As of May, only six of the schools passed the N.C. Charter School Advisory Board's readiness report.
According to a 2013 study by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes, based at Stanford University, 56 percent of charter schools nationwide, get results in reading that are not "significantly different" than other public schools in their area. And 19 percent of charter schools do "significantly worse" in reading than other public schools in their area.
Also included in SB793 is a provision that allows the children of a school's board of directors and other staff to get enrollment priority. "I think it's important if those people are going to be there, giving their time and energy, many of them volunteering and working in the schools, to have their children there where they are," Rep Tillman said.
McColl said this goes against the foundational ideas of equal access in public education. "Giving preference to people who work at the school or are on the board is more of a notion of something you'd see at private schools," McColl said.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Discrimination in education"